BWW Reviews: This Halloween Season GCT Invites You to A PARTY TO MURDER
A Party to Murder by Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes/directed by Zoe Bright/GCT (Glendale Centre Theatre)/through November 23
Time: the present; Halloween Night. Place: a cottage on an island surrounded by a lake somewhere in North America.
Six people have been invited to attend a Halloween party and to play a murder mystery game in costume. They play out the game... and then...the fun ends and real horror begins, as they encounter secret passageways, threatening letters and a dead corpse hanging behind the bookcase. No one else is on the island, so which one of them has committed the crime?
Now onstage at GCT, just in time for Halloween, is A Party to Murder written by Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes and fashioned in the style of Agatha Christie, patterned more specifically after her And Then There Were None. An isolated place. An eclectic assortment attend an overnight Halloween party; no one, except those in attendance, knows they are there. No one can leave. They are physically trapped on an island, and a boat will not return to take them to the mainland... until morning. Who has invited them? Is this merely a party? Or does the perpetrator have an ulterior motive?
At play's opening, a seance is being conducted and one of the participants is keeled over head-first into a bowl of Vichychoisse, supposedly dead. Quickly we learn that all 6 participants are acting out a charade, a type of murder mystery game. Each was invited and in his invitation encouraged to play a certain character and to wear a costume. When the charade is over, each is asked to figure out who has committed the murder of the man at the table and the winner will get a prize... of his own choosing. Elwood O'Callaghan (Tom Allen), a big business tycoon, guesses correctly, according to novelist Charles Prince (Nicholas Thurkettle) (pictured). He wins and must state what he wants. His girlfriend McKenzie (Kristine Blackport) is obviously unhappy in their relationship as he treats her abusively in front of the others, chastising her for changing into a flimsy, unladylike dress. Soon he announces his desire.
His wish? That each of the participants do exactly what he asks of them without question. Will (Jim Van Over), a former football player and now bound to a wheelchair, refuses to play, but is told by Elwood, it's either go along with his request or die. They next receive letters from Elwood, in which he threatens to expose, ruin or kill. Only one, girlfriend Kristine, receives a pleasant note, in fact, a marriage proposal from Elwood to her, but she is so strongly controlled and manipulated by him, that she does not want to accept. No sooner are the letters read when one of the participants ends up dead, hanging from a hook behind the bookcase with a knife in his (her) chest. The rest of the play, which I refuse to divulge, is to figure out whodunit. There's a portrait of Agatha Christie on the wall. The matriarch of murder. The heroine of the whodunit. We learn that five people had mysteriously disappeared 20 years earlier on the same spot, and when a journal is found, it seems that the father of guests Valerie and Henri Addison (Libby West and Tosca Minotto) was one of these Phantom Five.
The entire cast under Zoe Bright's slick direction are terribly good. never letting the audience guess for an instant the surprises that are about to follow. Thurkettle makes Charles typically egomaniacal, as Allen makes his Elwood highly despicable. Blackport makes us feel sympathy for pretty McKenzie, whereas Van Over plays it cool, creating a kind of joker out of Will, but never sympathetic. Both West and Minotto are a treat as sisters Valerie and Henrietta. They play with such strength and control that we never consider that there could be a devious bone in either of their bodies. It's as it should be; we should be surprised and shocked by one and all, jolted from our seats.
Listed as a comedy A Party to Murder is just that. There are numerous silly one-liners such as 'friends hanging around', 'most of us are off the hook', 'get it off his chest' right after the murdered guest is discovered hanging from the hook and stabbed to death. Corny but laughable phrases, as every thriller needs some comic relief. It's a fine cast performing a genuinely fun, well-written play that will most assuredly sustain your curiosity for two hours. Amateur sleuths who think they can solve everything may just be the slightest bit baffled by this one. Don't miss it!